Tam O'Neill Fine Arts

Category: Small Business Spotlight

Published: July 18, 2016

Tam O’Neill is one of only a few print dealers also academically trained in fine art printmaking. From her perspective as a historian and owner/founder of Tam O’Neill Fine Arts, she discusses precisely why historic prints are valuable and the cultural evolution of Cherry Creek North.  

Q: You’re a successful gallery owner, a juror and vettor for national art and antique exhibits, and a lecturer. How do you keep antique prints from being an intimidating subject?

A: Since I am trained as a printmaker and walked around for years with ink stained fingers, I have an innate understanding of prints as objects and how they are made.  Every print has a backstory, which is the fascinating part.  I recently appraised an original Picasso etching.  When it was removed from the frame and held up to a light source the original watermark of the paper was visible.  Seeing “Pablo Picasso” in the margin of the sheet was this great “aha!” moment when I knew the piece was a valuable first printing. The research to me is fascinating and never ending.

Q: In an era when many are snapping “selfies,” perhaps we’ve lost sight of the importance of art for documentation purposes. How do prints made by people like John James Audubon impact history?

A: Audubon’s portrait of the Passenger Pigeon, for example, shows us a once prolific species that has gone extinct.  There were no cameras then, so his image is an incredibly important record, as well as a cautionary tale for conservationists. 

Q: A lot of lip service is given to what is new in Denver, but a walk through your gallery reminds us to remember our roots, doesn’t it?

A: True. I am a westerner, and a third generation Colorado native.  My Great Grandmother, Jean Ann Parker, was the sister of Butch Cassidy…but that is a different story. We have some wonderful 19th century views of Denver and Colorado from Harpers Weekly magazine showing first hand views of miners weighing gold dust, surveyors on skis, cowboys and dudes.  We have original maps from Ferdinand Hayden’s first survey of the state showing early place names, railroads and the wagon trails.  We also have fun 1950’s era pictorial tourist maps showing hot springs, wildlife, hikers and all the reasons we love living here.  With all the new development and growth in the state, it’s important to know and celebrate the state’s history.

Q: Your gallery has been in Cherry Creek North since 1995. What changes have you observed in the neighborhood’s cultural community since then? 

A: I guess as a historian I’d like to recognize where we’ve been. Cherry Creek North has always been a great incubator for independent businesses, and galleries in particular. Just think about some of the history we have here. Saks Galleries has been in business for more than 50 years, Nelson Giesecke’s studio Object Design for 45 years, Shaver Ramsey for 40 years, Witold K for 30 years. Pismo was in business for over 25 years until they retired. Brena Gallery was the very first in Denver to show and sell contemporary art in the 70’s, and they were here in Cherry Creek. But we’re also attracting new talent like Dellisalde sculptor studio that just opened this year. We even have our own highly regarded Cherry Creek Theater group. I am certain creatives will continue to thrive in Cherry Creek North and continue its long and colorful history.

 

Tam O'Neill Fine Arts is a member of the Cherry Creek Arts District.

Stay tuned for more Small Business Spotlights featuring the places and faces of Cherry Creek North, a new story told every other week!